We know that it is prohibited to conduct business with fruits of Shevi'is,
as the Torah teaches, "l'Ochlah" (Vayikra 25:6) -- it must be eaten, and not
traded, "l'Ochlah v'Lo l'Sechorah" (Avodah Zarah 62a). Why, then, is it
permitted to give an Am ha'Aretz the value of up to three meals for the
fruits -- or, for that matter, to purchase from a Chaver any amount of
fruits? It should be prohibited because one may not conduct business with
fruits of Shevi'is!
(a) RASHI addresses this question by explaining that there is no prohibition
per se of "Sechorah" (commerce) with fruits of Shevi'is. Rather, there is a
Mitzvah to completely eat or consume the produce of Shevi'is, and to use up
any money exchanged for such produce, before the time of Bi'ur of each item.
The way to use up money that has Kedushas Shevi'is is by exchanging it for
edible fruit and eating that fruit b'Kedushas Shevi'is. As long as the money
with Kedushas Shevi'is is properly dealt with before the time of Bi'ur,
there is no problem of Sechorah; that is, one may buy fruits of Shevi'is as
long as the money will be properly dealt with before the time of Bi'ur.
A Chaver (scholar) can be trusted with such money, because we assume that he
will deal with it appropriately. An Am ha'Aretz is trusted only with up to
three meal's worth of money, but not with more. When the amount of money is
so small, we assume that it will certainly be consumed before the time of
Bi'ur. (See end of Insights to 40:1, for a discussion of why the Am ha'Aretz
is not suspected of money with Kedushas Shevi'is in other ways.)
(b) The RITVA, in explanation of Rashi, explains the prohibition of Sechorah
in slightly different way. The prohibition of Sechorah prohibits buying
anything which is not "Hana'aso u'Bi'uro Shaveh" -- that is not consumed in
the process of being used (food, for example, is "Hana'aso u'Bi'uro Shaveh,"
since it is destroyed by being eaten). For this reason, it is prohibited to
use Shemitah produce to purchase a garment or a Behemah Teme'ah. (Although
Rashi in our Sugya appears to take a different approach, as noted above (a),
this is indeed the way Rashi presents this Halachah in Bechoros 12b, DH
The Ritva explains that since Sechorah is not forbidden per se, but is only
forbidden if one invests in the wrong types of items a Chaver is trusted not
to invest in those items, while an Am ha'Aretz is not trusted. Why, then, is
it permitted to give three meals worth of money of Shevi'is to an Am
ha'Aretz? Perhaps he will use that money to buy a garment or a Behemah
Teme'ah! The answer is that since he is only getting three meals worth of
money, he probably needs the money for food, and therefore we assume that he
will use it for that purpose.
This differs from the first approach cited above in a number of ways. For
one, according to the first approach the three meal limit is much more
easily understood: the smaller the amount of money, the faster it will be
spent. Also, according to the first approach the prohibition of Sechorah
will not apply to the type of produce (as listed in Shevi'is 7:2) which has
Kedushas Shevi'is but has no time of Bi'ur. According to the Ritva, the
prohibition of Sechorah will apply even to such items.
(c) TOSFOS (DH sh'Ein, and in the RASH in Shevi'is 7:3) argues and says that
there is certainly an independent prohibition of Sechorah with fruits of
Shevi'is. The laws of Shevi'is apply even to items with no time of Bi'ur.
The prohibition is not because of the problem that one will not use up the
money in time or that one will purchase the wrong type of produce with the
money, but because trading in fruits of Shevi'is is itself forbidden. For
this reason, the prohibition applies even to buying and selling items of
Shevi'is which have no time of Bi'ur.
Why, then, is one permitted to pay three meals' worth of money to an Am
ha'Aretz for fruits of Shevi'is? Tosfos explains that the prohibition of
Sechorah is an Isur of *picking* the fruit for the purpose of selling it for
profit. If he picks it for his own use, or if someone else sells what he
picked, it is not considered Sechorah.
Our Gemara, then, is discussing fruit that was not picked in order to be
sold for profit. Therefore, there is no prohibition of Sechorah. The only
Isur involved is giving money that is Kadosh with Kedushas Shevi'is to an Am
ha'Aretz. That is prohibited because he will not keep the laws of Shemitah
(such as not wasting the item, feeding it to his animal, paying back his
debts with it, etc.). If we give him only three meals worth, then we assume
that he is going to buy food with it, as the Ritva said (above (b)).
(d) TOSFOS (here, and in Avodah Zarah 62a, DH Nimtza) adds that perhaps
there is a second prohibition of Sechorah with fruits of Shevi'is. Perhaps
it is also prohibited to invest in Shemitah produce for the purpose selling
in a distant market for a profit, like a trader does (buys low, sells high).
Since our case does not involve professional trading, there is no
prohibition of Sechorah. The only problem is that the Am ha'Aretz will
misuse the Shemitah money, as we described above.